Do You Believe?

Do you believe that America is a force for good in the world?

Before you say “yes,” please consider carefully that this is a serious commitment. It is to say that our ideas of democratic capitalism are good for us and are good for others, and thus as generous, decent people we are willing to share them. We do not deny America’s errors, but still see the motives of our nation as fundamentally just, and the net effects of our influence as making the world a better place.

I do believe these beliefs are fair and right, because I have seen the evidence all around the world.

Recently, I was visiting an Indian slum called Dharavi, in Mumbai—the area featured in the movie Slum Dog Millionaire. I walked for hours in the narrow alleyways among the pottery factories, tanneries, and plastic recycling businesses with a 34-year old man named Krishna Pujari. Krishna started out with nothing, in ways we can’t even imagine, and has pulled himself out of poverty with a small business.

Krishna is deeply proud of his success. I asked him his secret. His answer? “Entrepreneurship.” And what does that mean? Here’s his definition: “Build something, earn a living, serve others.” Build, earn, and serve.

Now where do you suppose these ideas came from? He’ll tell you himself: From America. He’s never even been here, but he knows: This is what Americans stand for. This is our ethos, spreading around the world, lifting up people like him, and countries like India.

Krishna is not alone, and is not even an isolated case. Since 1970, billions around the world have been lifted out of absolute poverty, and billions have seen democracy for the first time. Why? Two reasons.

First, they saw how we live. They saw an open society, the rule of law, property rights, and the rewards of entrepreneurship and work. They saw our freedom and our prosperity, and by copying the ideas, the inspiration and the drive that makes this country so great, they threw off the chains of poverty by the hundreds of millions.

Second, America has been a servant leader nation. We have a military, diplomatic, and cultural commitment to sharing our values and system around the world—usually peacefully, but when necessary, with force.

It was no government program or parastatal agency, but the American model of democratic capitalism and strength that gave opportunity to 2 billion of our brothers and sisters around the globe to pull themselves up—and these ideas can do the same for the next 2 billion.

But it can only happen if we retain our confidence in the greatness of our nation, believe in the fundamental goodness of our values, learn from our mistakes, and maintain a commitment to serve the rest of the world.

And we need something else as well: friends. We can’t honor our commitment to the world by ourselves. We need friends who share our values. We need outposts of democratic capitalism. We need people who believe in equality, freedom, and the fundamental potential of every human being.

Friends are hard to find in the world. Too many nations are silently glad we lead, and find it most convenient to free-ride on American strength, enjoying the benefits while publicly grousing about the morality of our cause and the principles behind our leadership. For others, American values are a threat—a threat to their power, which they maintain at the cost of the poor and oppressed.

So when we have a true friend—a collaborator nation in the optimistic, joyful experiment of building a better world for the people who need it the most—it is important to celebrate that friendship, and to show how much it means to us.

In a very real way, honoring our friend is our commitment to our own nation’s values. And that is a commitment that we can proudly share.